Solothus – Realm of Ash and Blood (2020)REVIEW

Sagging deeper atop frayed and sweat-wilted thrones at the sound of the common folk, howling with fear for the new wave of death upon they the most vulnerable, all leadership droops in ivory containment. Better to let the feeble heap into piles of eye-watering rot and be scooped away, survivors would only revolt for the generations lost. Better to leave the callous discarded dead as a burnt and buried curse upon the land they’d sown. Let our ashes and our blood seep into the soil enlightened to the abuse of power so that the Earth would be salted and scorched by vengeful souls deemed worthless in life, a pox upon your hoard and your sealed castle. The weight of the conqueror, left to die alone without peer upon completion his life’s work, bears the proper karma to satisfy our coming pile of pestilential bones. Southern Finnish death/doom metal band Solothus are the conqueror, the cart for the dead, and the curse fulfilled today with equal love for pure doom metal old (and new) alongside lifetime(s) spent loving ‘old school’ death metal. Their down-strokes of decay undoubtedly bore thunder before yet this third full-length, ‘Realm of Ash and Blood’, manages deeper stirring currents — Throat gripping incantations of jilted and still-horrified souls spill unmercifully from the welts of their barbed whips and barrel-chested death roars.

There exists no shortage of slow death metal bands, no realm emptied of its melodic doom metal with growls, but a rare enough jewel exists in the expanse when it comes to true death/doom metal where a thousand spiral-eyed snakes attempt to balance the swinging existential metal slugs of traditional doom metal with the harrowing defiance that is pure death metal. Paradise Lost had it right fresh out of the gates (perhaps only just then…) and Beyond Belief were not far behind but it’d probably be the Suomi folk who’d truly blend the two pure forms in equal measure, arguably by way of God Forsaken‘s ‘Dismal Gleams of Desolation‘ (or pre-cursor Putrid, eh). I’d always seen the early evolutionary steps of bands like Solothus and Hooded Menace as a natural evolution of those earliest balanced ideals, finding the ‘rock’ hook within death metal without going even slightly death n’ roll. In hindsight, a demo like ‘Ritual of the Horned Skull‘ (2011) probably just aligned a similar set of influences (such as Sleep and Bolt Thrower) as their matched heaviness coalesced in the minds of snowed-in Finns alongside Swedes Runemagick, and recent triumphs by way of stateside heroes Temple of Void and Druid Lord. So, why are all of these names just a bit more recognizable when set next to Solothus? The ignorance of ‘the people’ toward great things does not reflect upon the artists quality, only the limitations of unkempt minds.

Either you’re not digging hard enough or, the godawful cover art for ‘Summoned From the Void‘ (2013) rightfully scared you off. Bad move! It is a great record and though you’ll see a progression in quality and consistency from album-to-album these guys had their dramatic vision for death/doom lunges and epic doom metal jogs down from the first album. With that said No King Reigns Eternal‘ (2016) was to be their signature album, the rhythms came to them as their line-up solidified and better defined Solothus‘ sound; Down-strummed and nigh guttural in their doomed presence, that second record wasn’t so much a ‘breakthrough’ as it was a powerful revision of their sound making steady kicks out towards the realm of mid-90’s Bolt Thrower and bearing lead guitar work that’d bring distinction from song to song. Consider how busy they were at this time between members side-bars in Sepulchral Curse, Gorephilia, Cataleptic and (then) newly formed Yawning Void, whose debut was brutally overlooked last year. Where could they go from ‘No King Reigns Eternal’? Well, if you’ve got to needle a good thing the most reasonable place to go is production and songwriting and this is primarily where ‘Realm of Ash and Blood’ pumps up Solothus‘ jam.

The eerie, the unreal, and the gut-bursting traditions of Finnish death metal groan out of Solothus‘ maw from the moment this third full-length steps into earshot as “Father of Sickness” couldn’t be more timely with its pristine render of filth, suffering and absolute goddamned doom. You’ll hear me chime in and demand a ‘hook’ within extreme metal songwriting with some regularity and right fuckin’ there, this song has a fine example of what I’m talking about, a subtle but memorable as hell progression reprised in place of a repetitive chorus. It tugs at me the same way certain melodic sparks on ‘The Karelian Isthmus’ did as a teenager, that is entirely my shit and a major reason I’m a huge proponent of Finnish death metal traditions. “The Watcher” is not far behind, employing a catchy main riff within its mid-paced ethereal hammering. I see a band paying great attention to every detail for the sake of the best result possible and I hear the slap of the over-attentive hand away from the compositions, allowing each song to breathe and blast at a patient rate. The render from Sounds from Below Studio and master by way of Resonance Sound Studio provide limitless space for Solothus to layer themselves for enormous death metal moments and a great hall to reverberate within for calmer, quieter sections (“Last Breath”) and this dynamic capability becomes more important as the ‘middle’ section of the album looms at a mid-to-slow pace, dwelling deeply into Side B.

“A Rain of Ash” offers the massive bookend and equally imposing shoreline to that of opener “Father of Sickness”, punching out some of the hardest (as in, heaviest) riffs on ‘Realm of Ash and Blood’ alongside some of the most gentle; Just as the barrage cools down (near the 3 minute mark) those deep, bestially sourced growls appear at their most monstrous next to the clean guitar tone. Is it sorrow or absolute menace they’re conveying? The desolation beyond the reaper’s final cut is what I’d gather from this moment, a pure and primal final growl of resentment for the cruelty of existence. I wasn’t entirely sure if this record hadn’t stumbled into a too-sour endpoint going into Side B but “A Rain of Ash” is such a beast of a song, I was sold upon completing that first listen. To convey so much through just a few clever ideas tied into an enormous sound is a remarkable event, even if you’ve heard every manner of death and doom combined. There are more death/doom records here in early 2020 than there are reasonably priced rolls of toilet paper and amongst the flock Solothus are wolves, leg-ripping, blood-slobbering and untamed beings. Praise the bloody snarl of death and the gnashing lurch resultant, I appreciate the plodding lunge of it all. Very high recommendation, even if the tracklist is somewhat front-loaded with big moments the listening experience provided by ‘Realm of Ash and Blood’ balances itself into great quality as its final moments trail off.

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Artist Solothus
Type Full-length
Released March 27, 2020
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Genre Death/Doom Metal

Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0

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